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One of the things that I think makes Android a truly beautiful platform is customization. I’m not talking about custom ROMs or root mods. I’m talking about how no other major mobile platform out there lets you customize your device the way Android does. There may be some caveats, but you have the ability to make your Android device completely unique. My wife hates using my Nexus 5 because it’s so different than her Galaxy S4. Maybe that’s a bad thing, I’m not sure. But what I do know is that I have my Nexus 5 set up exactly the way I want it and I love it. I think my home screen looks awesome, and not only is it super functional, it’s also fun to use. The beauty is that I can change it tomorrow if I get a new idea. My home screen isn’t going to look like everyone else’s iPhone (although I could make it look like iOS if I wanted) or Windows Phone; my device looks like no one else’s because it’s Android.
This is the first post of a recurring series about making your Android device yours. Today I’m going to cover custom launchers because I think it’s a fantastic place to start if you’re interested in customizing your device. My goal here is to offer customization ideas that will work for all Android devices, whether you’re still running Gingerbread or you’re on the latest version of Android, Kit Kat. You don’t need to be rooted. You don’t need to be running a custom ROM. All you need is a little bit of time and an itch to change things up a bit. If that sounds like you, read on my friend. We’re going to have fun diving into the world of customization and making your device truly unique.
If you’re not familiar with what a launcher is, you likely use one every time you turn on your phone. When you use your phone, you are interacting with your phone’s launcher. If you’re not using a custom one, you’re using the stock launcher. The launcher controls how the phone works when you interact with it, controls the homescreen layout and its transitions. Using a custom launcher enables you to modify home screen transition animations, tweak the look of app folders and change how your app dock is organized. There are many different ways you can customize your homescreen, and a great way to start is with the launcher.
Another good thing to know about using a custom launcher is that you can always go back to your stock launcher. If you don’t like what you’ve come up with, you can re-enable your default launcher by uninstalling the custom launcher or going into Settings > Apps, finding your custom launcher and clearing the default. Your stock launcher should return just as you left it.
There are tons of custom launchers out there. If you want to use one, look around and try to find one that you think will suit your desires best. Below I’ll list what I think are the most popular launchers for customizing your device. These aren’t necessarily the most unique options, but they are very popular. Just know that there are many others there that will allow you to do lots of different and crazy things to your device’s layout.
Nova and Apex Launcher
I’m not sure how much crap I’m going to get for lumping these two launchers together, but as far as I can tell, there isn’t a huge difference between them. They both offer a very stock Android look with a plethora of customization options. I’ve tried to snoop around and see which of the two the masses prefer and it really seems like a toss up. It comes down to personal preference and maybe even your device? I’ve read that some find one faster than the other. I use Nova because it was on sale once and that’s what I bought. If you’re trying to decide between the two, try out their free versions, which allow for a ton of customization without requiring you to spend a dime. If you end up wanting to try out premium features like gestures, buy the pro version of the app.
ADW and Go Launcher
Again, I may get blown up for lumping these two launchers together, but ADW and Go Launcher provide a very typical Android experience while departing from the stock Android look. These launchers have tons of skins that can be applied to make your device look like Windows Phone, iOS and everything in between. If someone already has come up with a look that you like, you can easily apply it to your own device. It just depends on the number of customizations used and how much work you want to put into your device. It’s yours. You get to choose.
Action Launcher Pro is my launcher of choice lately. I reviewed it for DroidDog when it first came out, and its features are so useful to me that no other launcher has been able to compete. It’s a beautiful, Holo-styled launcher with a new take on getting around and organizing your home screen.
There are two main features worth noting when discussing Action Launcher Pro:
- The app drawer is accessed by swiping from left to right, like you’re accessing a home screen to the left. Scrolling through the app drawer that is now a list is super quick, and you can jump to a section using the letters on the right side. This means that you no longer need to swipe through several pages of an app drawer just to find the YouTube app.
- Covers: In the screenshots shown here, all of the icons in my dock are covers, indicated by the small box in the bottom-right corner of the icon. Covers are basically fancy folders, except that when you press on the cover, it launches the app that you’ve clicked. To access the folder, you can either double-tap on the cover icon or swipe up, giving you access to the folder. I like to use the cover like the developer, Chris Lacy, by putting quick dial widgets in my phone cover.
I love Action Launcher Pro because it’s got a super clean look, it gives me fast access to any app, it’s being actively developed and it’s always getting new features.